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Stuart: A Life Backwards [Paperback]

Alexander Masters
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (101 customer reviews)
RRP: 8.99
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Book Description

1 Feb 2006

‘Stuart does not like the manuscript. He’s after a bestseller, “like what Tom Clancy writes”. “But you are not an assassin trying to frazzle the president with anthrax bombs,” I point out. You are an ex-homeless, ex-junkie psychopath, I do not add.’

This is the story of a remarkable friendship between a reclusive writer (‘a middle-class scum ponce, if you want to be honest about it, Alexander’), and Stuart Shorter, a homeless, knife-wielding thief. Told backwards – Stuart’s idea – it starts with a deeply troubled thirty-two-year-old and ends with a ‘happy-go-lucky little boy’ of twelve. This brilliant biography, winner of the Guardian First Book Award, presents a humbling portrait of homeless life, and is as extraordinary and unexpected as the man it describes.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Fourth Estate (1 Feb 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007200374
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007200375
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (101 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 18,256 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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Product Description


‘Unique and wonderful.’ Daily Mail

‘Possibly the best biography I have ever read.’ Mark Haddon

‘This is a very rare and haunting book … A great first book.’ Andrew O'Hagan

'Good books like this appear about once every five years. It's been years since I've been so delighted by a book and so surprised by it … When I'd finished I felt bereft, as if I'd lost an old friend.' Zadie Smith

‘Utterly compelling and very funny.’ Daily Telegraph

‘One of the most remarkable and touching biographies I’ve ever read.’ Minette Marin, Sunday Times

'I feel so strongly about this strange, funny, sad book that I hardly know where to begin … My enthusiasm feels almost limitless. A page-turner.' Observer

'Funny and original, a startling book … By the end I was doubled up in tears, but throughout I was often doubled up with laughter. It is dazzling.' Vogue

'A remarkable biography. Unforgettably moving. A gripping read.' Tim Lott, Sunday Times

‘A comedy of errors and horrors deftly handled and with a terrifically droll sense of humour.’ Melanie McGrath, Evening Standard

'With his first book, Alexander Masters … has achieved something remarkable. He has, without patronising, given a voice to the "underclass"; at the same time, without preaching, he shows us the value of even the most damaged of human lives … a powerful book, humane, instructive and entirely original. Sunday Telegraph

About the Author

Alexander Masters lives in London. His second book, ‘The Genius in My Basement’, was published in 2011.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
274 of 280 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A truly outstanding, original book 15 Mar 2006
By A Customer
Tne story of Stuart Shorter is the story of a person nobody wants to know- the homeless 'nutter', the beggar, the addict, the offender. Nobody that is, except, for reasons that aren't at first clear even to him, Alexander Masters, a hostel worker who stumbles across Stuart begging in Cambridge. Their relationship is unique in literature, one is an illiterate yob and the other is an ex-boarding-school pupil and do-gooder. Somehow they immediately connect and as their touching relationship unfolds and Stuart's life is rewound, you realise that this nutter is a truly amazing human being. His biographer brings him to life so brilliantly it is impossible not to howl (mentally at least) with laughter at their adventures at the Home Office, Stuart's incisive insights, and then at the agony of the inevitable tragedies. Brilliant, buy it, be moved and then wonder how much potential is in all those homeless 'scum' asking for change from downtrodden commuters on their way to and from work.
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57 of 60 people found the following review helpful
If you pick up this book and read the many, many comments and rave reviews, you'll see that this book is a must read this year.

This is the story of Stuart, a chronic homeless man who from an early age has sniffed glue, done heroin, abused booze, been abused, been to prison... you name it and it probably has happened to him. It is almost as much a story about the author as it is about Stuart, detailing their relationship and the troubles Alexander Masters has putting Stuarts life down on paper.

And that is what makes this book worth a read - there are no clear answers, no solutions and no holds barred, just like in life itself. Stuart himself asked Alexander to write the book backwards, from his present life back to when he was a young boy and when he 'first discovered violence'. This could have been more effective if countless to-ing and fro-ing between the present and the past had been avioded but i think the author felt it important to convey the mixed up nature of Stuart's world.

If you want to open your mind and take in the account of one man who has had had a traumatic life and understandably has had difficulty coming to terms with what has happened to him, then this is your book. We see homeless people everyday but never stop to think about who they are and why they are there. We judge them instantly and avoid contact with them because they remind us of the dark side of society.

It's easier to think of homeless people as 'dangerous others' who desearve what they have got and could change their circumstances if they tried - Stuart will change this for you and put a real story and a real face to this group of unfortunate people.
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41 of 43 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
I have just finished reading this book and am deeply moved by it. The story of Stuart, a homeless, rage filled man is brilliantly captured by the author, and certainly leaves you thinking. Even reading some of the awful things Stuart has done, you are still left feeling that he is someone you would want to get to know. The conclusion is emotional, and made me feel lost for words. Well worth the read - I couldn't put it down.
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35 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gripping 24 April 2005
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is the biography of a person you've never heard of - a strange but compelling idea. Alexander Masters takes as his subject career criminal Stuart Shorter, and traces his development from grave to cradle, so to speak. In the process he highlights some of the ways that criminality escalates and proliferates: Stuart, a sometime heroin addict and surging muddle of violence, is a chaotic and difficult person, with serious convictions to his name (five years for raiding a post office, for example), but he emerges as a victim of the inadequate criminal justice system, of childhood trauma and of a neglectful educational system. In fact, Stuart, whom Masters paints warts and all, is oddly likeable. This makes the story of his ill-directed life a tragic one, and it's a powerful and timely story too. Moreover, Masters writes in a distinctive and intelligent way; he's not afraid to say things that fly in the face of political correctness, and he's not afraid to show his occasional disgust with Stuart's excesses, but this is a poignant and compassionate book, which deserves to reach a wide audience.
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32 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Masterpiece by Alexander Masters! 18 May 2005
Alexander Masters has written a very gripping biography - one that almost reads as a novel. An extraordinary friendship develops between Masters, a Cambridge academic, and Stuart, a chaotic, knife-wedding beggar, when the two of them are involved in a campaign to release two charity workers from prison. Masters relates Stuart's life backwards in an attempt to discover how a happy-go-lucky little boy turns into a polydrug-addicted-alcoholic Jekyll and Hyde personality.
Stuart: A Life Backwards not only makes the reader acutely aware of the failings of society but also sense the despair of those who try to make a difference. Masters intelligently and humorously portrays Stuart's life in such a way that one cannot help but like the ex-homeless, ex-junkie psychopath.
Having lived in Cambridge myself during the time of Masters's and Stuart's friendship, I am ashamed to admit that I was blissfully unaware of people like Stuart who made those same streets I walked along their home. For anyone who wishes to have their eyes opened, I highly recommend Stuart: A Life Backwards.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars I would thoroughly recommend it. Alexander Masters befriended Stuart...
A moving and well written story. I would thoroughly recommend it. Alexander Masters befriended Stuart and during the course of their unlikely friendship discovered a truly noble... Read more
Published 5 days ago by Bookworm
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Intriguing book.
Published 17 days ago by J. C. CRONIN
3.0 out of 5 stars A difficult topic - well explored.
I found the book tedious in some parts, but recognised that this simply reflected the subject. In contrast at other times it was almost compelling. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Margaret Jeffery
4.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking
Although for me not a 'don't want to put it down' book. It was a very thought provoking book that changes perceptions and question how society expects individuals to conform.
Published 2 months ago by Adele Jaab
5.0 out of 5 stars impressive and thought provoking study of a 'chaotic' life
This is a very impressive book - a thought provoking study of a 'chaotic' life that succeeds in explaining what it's like to lead a chaotic life, and also, for Stuart Shorter, the... Read more
Published 4 months ago by William Jordan
2.0 out of 5 stars Didn't like.
Not very well written. The whole "backwards" point of the story makes it difficult to understand where you are. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Leona
4.0 out of 5 stars True story - the despair of being a homeless person
Homeless people - part of the furniture in the streets of any large city - easy to move around, to ignore, and to have little to wonder about. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Kiwiflora
5.0 out of 5 stars brilliant!!!!!!!!!!!
Book is amazing in great condition, amazing price I almost feel guilty for not paying more :/
I watched the DVD first, and knew the book would be brilliant. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Emily
5.0 out of 5 stars Enthralling
Surprised myself by really enjoying this book. Easy to read, informative, thought provoking and heartbreaking. Still think about it most days.
Published 6 months ago by Caralinda Jefferies
4.0 out of 5 stars May contain nutters
Speaking as I do as about the 4 millionth least respected Amazon reviewer, perhaps my best bet is just to agree with everybody else. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Burt11
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